Bravery, desire

I should have been braver,” I said to Wim. “I should have been stronger. I ought not to have drunk so much. Look at me. I acted in cowardice. I’ve always been weak.”

Weakness is nothing that describes you, dear. You were alone and you did what you did to survive.”

I could have lived with him if I tried harder. He gave me a home, he gave me a bed. At the first sign of panic I became him, the him I feared the most. A tepid drunk is easy to control if your hands control the bottle. A mean-minded drunk will take your hands and use them against you to get what he needs. He never mourned. Did I ever tell you that? He never mourned.”

Mourning is different in different people. Some weep, some turn to stone. And some become blustery with their rage. They blame themselves–”

Who else could he blame? Me? I was a victim of it, not the cause.”

You almost gave him a child, and then you didn’t. That affects men in different ways. He looked for a way to get lost, but he didn’t know how to do that without pulling you along.”

So you’re defending him?”

For what he did? No. But he was blind, and so were you. You grieved differently, and separately.”

I can’t go back, Wim. I couldn’t go back even if given the choice. It was too hard. Too much to consider. Look at me.”

No. I won’t. That’s a feeble excuse, Charlotte. Don’t blame your misfortunes on how you look. Bravery isn’t something you wear on your skin, it’s something you carry. Resentments seep through the skin and make you harder and colder. You are what you are. Ugliness is in the mind.”

You make it sound simple. It’s a cloth that’s wrapped around me, every day. Always I was told how much my appearance diminished me. I married Jeremiah because there was no one else, and there would not be anyone else.”

What about Del? He wants you. He desires you.”

He’s so clumsy with his words. He’s lewd.”

But kind. He doesn’t know what words to use because he’s drawn to you.”

Drawn to me? You’re foolish, Wim. Childish. I’m the only woman who hasn’t denied his fumbling attempts. He’s vain and–”

And confident. He knows what he wants. There’s kindness underneath that crude surface. He could be a kind man, a loving man.”

That’s what I thought about Jeremiah.”

No. You know better. He took the first piece of candy that was offered to you. You didn’t know the sour underneath. You married a stranger because you thought you had to. But you know Delbert. Better than you ever knew Jeremiah. He doesn’t see the same thing you see when you glance in the mirror. He sees what’s under the skin.”

He sees what’s under my dress, be honest.”

Maybe. But he sees you. The bruises, the brokenness, the sorrow that lives inside.”

Does he see the madness, I wonder? The coldness? The anger? I’m doing him a favor by keeping him away.”

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Scarecrow men

…but those old men troubled me. They were like scarecrows staked in gravel, hardly moving except to point at the big tin sky. They were lined up straight, and watched the clouds with old-man patience, waiting for something to come ahead, or fade away.

And there was Jeremiah, standing in the corn field, the same awful patience in his dark eyes, watching me.

Get away from me,” I yelled. “Go somewhere else. I’m not yours anymore.” I hollered so loud that it hurt my throat. But he just stood there, and stared.

Sheriff Dunn pulled into the driveway, and if he heard me yelling, he was decent enough not to show it.

The coming storm

oldbarn

The sky took on a gray, sentimental look, like a folded dingy photograph of people standing in a cluster, looking unhappy, inviting fate into their doorway. It was a lonely looking sky, that’s the best way to tell it, and the stillness in the air was oppressive. The things I missed, and the things I would miss. Arms around me in bed, the curl of a breeze coming through the morning curtains, smelling like perfume. Those things were behind me now. I didn’t know if there was going to be harsh weather ahead. If not this day, then the next, or the next after that. That was the nature of our lives. But there would be no more picnic lunches and swollen corn. Things had turned too gray for those things, and even if they did come back, I probably wouldn’t notice, because they would be sullied.

I sat at my kitchen table, and waited. For what, I don’t know. For the weather to turn, the wind to start convulsing in the far-off corn fields, the first smell of iron rain. I had two of my old dresses folded on the table, and underwear, a clean bowl and a spoon, and a hurricane lantern. I would wrap my clothes in a towel and then a sturdy blanket. These things were all I needed. A day’s worth of weather was nothing compared to everything else. I could hear the sound of crows in the back field, a dark chorus of noise and upset, harsh music inside this bowl of silence.

A Very Tall Summer – new intro

It was a very tall summer in 1957, and I’ll tell you why:

Houses were set afire for no good reason, and the smoke and the dust eclipsed any kindness that may have had a chance to grow. I do recall the anger that slid in the smoky heat, uncoiling like a snake, waiting to strike. I won’t lie: the snake in the Garden must have been a woman, because I understand it perfect. Thou shalt not poured through my head, but murder did not come at the end of that thought. Goddamn it, Jeremiah, thou shalt not have done unto me.

***

Not much physical writing the past couple of weeks due to a hectic work schedule. But I finally have a week off next week, and I’m looking forward to submerging myself back into the story… it’s there, but only in my head. As good an explanation as any as to why most writers are crazy. 🙂

A hard dream about Jeremiah

I ache on the porch most days. Ache and dread. Watch and wait. The storm has passed and the dirt is still wet. The sky is duller, the nights longer, the certainty less certain. I wait for the consequences. The voice. That voice. His voice.

When I sleep, I dream hard of Jeremiah.

The colors in the barn yard are hard and blistered, like a photograph smutted with candle wax. In the dreams, I aim the shotgun at his back. But then he turns to face me, and I see his cruelty full-fleshed. His mouth twitches, as if chewing on something unpleasant. His face is scorched with whiskers, oiled with sweat. He is dressed like an old-time preacher, everything sharply creased, impeccably black. He walks towards me, so patiently, so indifferent to the gun pointing at his guts. He mouths words I can’t understand, gibberish words, and they are like curses bleeding out of stones. This is a leaner Jeremiah, a younger version, not the man I married, with his dirty grey socks and foaming stink and stained affections. This version is a man I never knew, one well-studied in the intricacies of harm. He approaches me slowly, bare-foot, and the dust around him collapses with each step. Thirty yards away, and less, one step at a time.

I wake up with blood caught in my throat, unable to scream or cry out.

I want to burrow out of this flesh, shroud myself in Nothing, hide in a place where he cannot find me. But I’m a stain inside my own skin, irrevocably contained.

The walls

Darkness filled the room because I let the kerosene burn out. And then there was light. I could see outside. The walls were transparent; not gone, but transparent, as if they had been replaced by a thin gauze. The sky was a deep shade of gray, swirling variations of gray, and heavy. The rain had stopped, most of the wind had stopped, but everything was blanketed by a thin sheet of rain. I could see puddles where none were before, culverts in the backyard, filled with brackish water, small pools with small splashes of rain denting their smoothness. The storm had passed, or retreated just enough to feign calm. Continue reading “The walls”

Imagine Marlene

Marlene. She’s a real sweetheart, a little short-tempered, but pretty in a department store kind of way. She was a real bitchy little number, short hair, too much makeup, but she could turn on the charm when she wanted something. Tall, good-looking woman. She sure knew her way around the bedroom, but not around the cornstalks, she liked the city too much. She was always talking, always wanted to go to the movies, and kept up with all those film star magazines. She was loud but pretty, spent too much time in front of the mirror. She was everything, she was nothing, pretentious, too scared to move, frightened of her own shadow, she owned her goddamn shadow, she didn’t know how to listen, she didn’t know how to talk, she had daddy issues, she had mama problems, she wasn’t good enough, she was better than, she wasn’t right in the head. Marlene was anyone and no one at the same time.